Caught (up) in traffic
May 2021
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On what local governments can do to improve road safety

Here is a very interesting article on how a small city in the US was able to reduce traffic deaths by investing in people-oriented transport programs and projects:

Kessler, E. (April 6, 2021) “EYES ON THE STREET: How Hoboken Has Eliminated Traffic Deaths,” StreetsBlog NYC, https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2021/04/06/eyes-on-the-street-how-hoboken-has-eliminated-traffic-deaths/ [Last accessed: 4/14/2021]

The article is pretty much self-explanatory. I won’t be commenting more about this except that many of the items mentioned can be taken on by many cities and municipalities in the Philippines. You don’t have to be a highly urbanized city with a big population and so much resources to come up with a plan and perhaps improvise in order to reduce costs of implementation. The most important thing is leadership since leaders like the mayor will be responsible for and making the critical decisions for the town. That is why he was elected in the first place, and the same goes for the other elected officials who are supposed to represent the interests of all their constituents and not just those who own cars.

If you build the bike lanes, will people use them?

The obvious answer to this question is yes. It is not so clear, however, how many will really be using these bike lanes over time. That needs data. That requires counting. And such data will be useful in order to understand, among other things, why people choose to bike or why they don’t. The latter is important to determine what factors are being considered by people who can switch to cycling particularly for commuting. Of course, there are many references for this from other cities and countries but these still need to be contextualized from our (Philippine) perspective. Case in point is Marikina, which has the most comprehensive network of bike lanes in the country. What are the numbers and what are the constraints and misconceptions? Did the city do its part to promote and sustain cycling?

Here is an article discussing the experience in the US:

Penney, V. (April 1, 2021) “If You Build It, They Will Bike: Pop-Up Lanes Increased Cycling During Pandemic,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/01/climate/bikes-climate-change.html?smid=url-share [Last accessed: 4/9/2021]

Bike lane along Katipunan Avenue (C5) in Quezon City

Here is the link to the paper mentioned in the article:

https://www.pnas.org/content/118/15/e2024399118

Didn’t we already have 15-minute cities and towns in the Philippines?

I was reading about articles and posts in social media about the ’15-minute’ city. The concept basically states that your home should be within 15 minutes of necessary destinations such as the market, the grocery store, the drug store, hospital, police station, and maybe perhaps the government office.

To quote:

“The core principles behind the 15-minute city aren’t new to urban planning. They derive from an old history of designing cities around people rather than cars, and many European cities that were planned before the invention of the automobile are better suited to this notion. But the idea that has been popularized during the pandemic is that all cities — including European ones — must center future planning on the goal of ensuring car-free access to basic necessities, such as health care, schools, employment and food. It’s a lofty goal, but one that is unlikely to reach all neighborhoods in many cities without drastic interventions and investments. Pitter warns that simply injecting design changes such as bike lanes and parklets into a neighborhood will not reverse segregation that has been embedded into city planning.”  O’Sullivan in “Where the ’15-Minute City’ Falls Short” 

Many of our cities and municipalities date to the Spanish times or older (e.g., Manila, Cebu). Those that developed during the Spanish period were planned according to European cities. You know, with the church, government (i.e., municipal hall), market and school located at the center. Residential and commercial establishments surround the center, which often had a plaza. And, as the saying goes, the further you were from the center (i.e., the fainter the sound of the church bells), the lesser you are as far as society goes. This set-up still applies now and arguably sari-sari stores, which were the convenience stores of old, are now being replaced by convenience store chains like 7/11 and Family Mart. Commerce-wise, it helps that big companies like SM, Robinsons and Puregold have smaller stores spread around. And hospitals like Medical City have smaller clinics and laboratories. Wet markets? Surely there are talipapas if you just check around you.

Even now, if you look around closely, the only likely exceptions to the 15-minute city concept would be concerning the workplaces and schools. Many people live more than 15 minutes from their workplaces, enduring ‘painful’ or ‘wasteful’ commutes on a daily basis. The same goes with students who are enrolled in their or their parents’ preferred schools. Note that the public school system in the Philippines, despite its being maligned, has pre-school, elementary and high school campuses or buildings located strategically in each barangay. That would mean short commutes for students enrolled in these schools which prioritize residents of the barangays. However, many prefer private schools (e.g., Ateneo, LaSalle, St. Scholastica, St. Paul, Assumption, etc.) or elite public schools (i.e., science high schools) and so even children have to endure long commutes.

So do you still think we don’t have 15-minute cities in the Philippines?

On the principles of good infrastructure

Since the Philippine government is engaged in its Build, Build, Build infrastructure development program, and agencies like the DPWH and DOTr often or regularly refer to what’s happening in the US in terms of projects, guidelines and standards, I am sharing the following article on the principle

Marshall, A. (March 18, 2021)“What Are the Five Principles of Good Infrastructure?” Governing.com, https://www.governing.com/community/Five-Principles-Good-Infrastructure.html [Last accessed: 4/5/2021]

Despite obviously being an article about US infrastructure in the context of the new administration there, there are just too many takeaways or relevant information here that applies to us and how we are developing and maintaining our infrastructure. To quote:

“First of all, cost matters. The evidence is pretty clear now that we pay several times more than other advanced nations to build transit infrastructure, particularly tunnels, and possibly highways as well. It appears we pay too much to build public parks.

Second, time matters. We still get estimates for infrastructure projects whose construction stretches into decades, when it should be a few years. Time relates to cost. Adding time makes projects more expensive.

Third, connections matter. Whether it’s a light-rail line joining up to a bus line, or an interstate exit linking to a town, the connections between infrastructure systems are important. High-speed rail lines need to intersect seamlessly with the cities they serve. Infrastructure can’t be designed in a vacuum. Urban planners and designers should be at the top of the infrastructure food chain, so that transportation and other departments work for comprehensive visions.

Fourth, design matters. Western Europe has been erecting light, airy bridges for decades, while we have continued to build heavy concrete slabs. This is changing, but we lag behind other countries in the design quality of everything from bridges to subways.

Finally, ownership matters. Even the best-designed and swiftly built infrastructure will turn bad if we give one or two private companies total control over them. As we use private companies for broadband, cable, telephones, data management and the power that runs our homes, we need to remember this. When we can’t (or won’t) have public systems, then the private ones need to be carefully managed.”

To what extent do you think these principles apply to our case?

Some observations and thoughts about the EDSA carousel

Much has been written or said about the EDSA Carousel. This is the express bus service the government implemented along Metro Manila’s busiest thoroughfare, EDSA or Circumferential Road 4. I feel that it is a decent effort from government to address the lack of supply to address the huge demand for public transport along EDSA considering that it serves to also distribute trips collected from major roads connecting to it. Is it an admission of something wrong in terms of the transport infrastructure along EDSA? Perhaps and from the current administration and DOTr. The admission of flaws certainly did not or will not come from the previous administrations that failed to address problems pertaining to Line 3 including maintenance and operations issues.

Buses queued before the Trinoma/North Avenue Station of the carousel. Overhead is the junction to the EDSA-MRT depot underneath Trinoma.

The overhead junction is the MRT’s branch to/from the depot

Buses queuing towards the North Avenue Station

The carousel stations are basically part of the MRT station with the platform located at ground level at the otherwise underutilized space that is the median island of EDSA. Access to the express buses are via the MRT stations as there are no other means for crossing to/from the carousel berths.

The carousel is an attempt to have a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along EDSA. It is perhaps the most practical solution to supplementing the already limited capacity of elevated Line 3 despite the continued operations of regular buses. The express bus service is not a new idea along EDSA since Line 3 had to compete with a BRT proposal (though it didn’t use the term BRT then) back in the 1990s. Insiders at NEDA relate that it was then President Fidel V. Ramos himself who allegedly ‘lobbied’ for the MRT instead of an elevated bus transit system. Unfortunately, the MRT proposed, constructed and now in operation is a light rail system like Line 1 and could not easily be upgraded to a heavy rail system like Line 2 or the future Line 7. The line is already problematic due to maintenance issues and the aging rolling stock. And there are questions regarding interoperability with Line 1 (definitely not interoperable with Line 7). So the grand central station currently under construction will really be a terminus for 3 lines as trains will not be able to pass through to other lines like how it is in other countries.

Will the carousel be a permanent fixture along EDSA? Perhaps. But it should be improved further for the convenience of commuters as well as for more efficient operations. The current buses being used are the not the right vehicles if capacity is to be maximized. Articulated buses would be necessary for this purpose. The current barriers should also be replaced with more appropriate and perhaps more clever designs partly for aesthetics but for the system to be safer and more functional in terms of spaces for passengers and vehicles.

On the importance of trees along streets

I’ve written before about the importance of having parks around a city or town. Here’s an article I recently read about the positive impacts of trees along streets:

Stimpson, A. (March 12, 2021) “Green health: a tree-filled street can positively influence depression, study finds,” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/mar/12/baltimore-study-trees-mental-health-study [Last accessed: 3/29/2021]

Tree-lined street somewhere in Antipolo City, Rizal

We often refer to cities as the urban jungle. Why not really, literally make cities as urban jungles by planting more trees and other plants where its possible to grow and nurture them. Gardens may be grown not just for flowers or aesthetics but for food. Perhaps architecture should deliberately be oriented for greens? Orchard Road in Singapore is much admired for its trees. Surely, similar streets in our country can be landscaped accordingly.

On ‘high-tech’ bike tires

Here’s another recent article about tires developed by NASA for their rovers. Obviously, the objective was to eliminate flat tires when you send them out to explore other planets or moons. The applications here, however, will have a big impact on vehicles including bicycles that have increased popularity in the last year partly due to the pandemic. These might definitely become game-changers particularly for those who bike commute.

Golson, J. (March 23, 2021) “These NASA-developed bike tires could be the last you ever buy,” Inverse, https://www.inverse.com/innovation/these-nasa-developed-bike-tires-could-be-the-last-you-ever-buy [Last accessed: 3/25/2021]

I had posted about the tires on my father-in-law’s newly acquired pedal assist electric bike. Here is what it looks like. Of course, rubber is still the basic material here so perhaps this will be replaced by more durable (indestructible?) material stated in the article above.

On model trains and railways

Here is a quick share of an article from The New York Times about model railways and trains. I first learned about the company mentioned in the article from a mentor who collected train models and built his own railway model sets. The latter included a portable set he built using an old briefcase that he brought to his classes to demonstrate basic railway features to his students. Some of his scale models are also on display in his home. Whenever we were in the Akihabara District of Tokyo, I enjoyed tagging along him as he searched for models or parts in the many hobby shops in the area.

On a different view of the ’15-minute city’ concept

Here is an article discussing the downside(s) of the 15-minute city; particularly its adoption without understanding first and setting the context for the concept:

O’Sullivan, F. (March 3, 2021) “The Downside of a 15-Minute City,” Bloomber CityLab, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-02/the-downsides-of-a-15-minute-city [Last accessed: 3/20/21]

Some people are pushing very much the same concept for quick adoption in the Philippines without again contextualizing it. I feel these people are detached or choose to be so perhaps as they seek shortcuts to achieve what they believe should be the way cities and municipalities are laid out in the country. But wait…don’t we already have 15-minute cities in the Philippines? I will be writing about that soon…

 

Nostalgia: On old photos of transport in the Philippines

I like browsing old photos on the Philippines. Of particular interest are photos showing transportation during the Spanish and American periods. I came upon this photo of a tranvia station at Plaza Goiti in front of Sta. Cruz Church. The church is still there though it looks very different from the structure in the photo below. This is probably due to the reconstruction and renovations done over the years (it was seriously damaged during World War 2).

 

The source of the photo is a collection I found on the internet. Note that if you clicked the photo, you will be taken to another site where you can view other photos as well. Meanwhile, here is a screen capture of the area from Google Street View:

Plaza Lacson with Sta. Cruz Church in the background to the left of the statue of former Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson

Plaza Goiti is now Plaza Lacson with a statue of the former Mayor of Manila standing in the open space. Of course, the tranvia is no longer there but there are buses and jeepneys as well as tricycles providing public transportation in the area. The population is also higher and denser than when the first photo was taken (ca. 1910) but it seems the Sta. Cruz district is still a walkable area. We hope it will remain to be so and more initiatives are taken to have more improvements or enhancements to encourage active transport as well as public transport use over private motor vehicles.